Integral Theory and Project Management—tenet #6

This series of posts take the Ken Wilber’s introduction to Integral Theory called A Brief History of Everything and discusses the 12 main tenets concerning the concept of a holon and how they can be applied to the field of project management.  I have been posting one tenet a week on Sundays; this post covers tenet #6.

1.  Recap–definition of a holon, and tenets #1-5

A holon is an entity which consists of components, and yet is itself a component of a larger whole.

Tenet #1. Reality as a whole is not composed of things or processes, but of holons.

Holons must be considered from the standpoint of interacting with other holons on the same level, and with holons at higher levels (of which the holon is just a part) and lower levels (which comprise the parts of the holon).

Tenet #2 Holons display four fundamental capacities: The horizontal capacities of self-preservation, self-adaptation, and the vertical capacities of self-transcendence and self-dissolution.

Holons follow the dual rules of evolution when it comes to holons at the same level:    survival of the fittest (self-preservation) and survival of the fitting (self-adaptation).    Holons have the property of being able to evolve to the next highest level (self-transcendence), and they can also “devolve” into their component parts (self-dissolution).

Tenet #3 Holons emerge

As mentioned in Tenet #2, holons have the property of self-transcendence or evolution to the next highest level.    This is not just a higher degree of organization, but also involves emergent properties or differences in kind from the level below.

Tenet #4 Holons emerge holarchically

Holons, as seen above, are units that are both wholes containing parts and parts of larger wholes.   This kind of nested or concentric linking of holons reminiscent of the Russian matroshka dolls is considered a holarchy.    In contrast, we see in an organizational chart the traditional notion where parts are linked vertically to the levels above them (the notion of hierarchy), and horizontally to the units at the same level (the notion of a heterarchy).

Tenet #5  Each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessor(s)

When a higher level of holons emerges, it incorporates the holons from a lower level but adds emergent properties.  A cell contains molecules, but is an entity which is capable of reproduction, where a property that goes above and beyond what a mere collection of molecules could do on its own.

2.  Tenet #6

The lower sets the possibilities of the higher; the higher sets the probabilities of the lower.

Tenet #5 tells us that the higher level of holon has emergent properties which go above and beyond the lower level.  However, tenet #6 says that the higher level cannot ignore the lower level, and it there is bound to a certain extent by the possibilities set by the holons of the lower level.  However, the higher level also affects the lower level in that, the order imposed by the higher level of holons will influence the patterns in which the lower levels interact.

This tenet is a little abstract, but putting it in the context of project management will illustrate it so that it is more intuitive.  As a project manager, you have members of your project team.  You are the higher level of holon, and the team members are the lower level.  What you can accomplish is limited absolutely by the abilities of team members and the resources available to them.  So it is vital as a project manager that you make sure that the team members have the resources they need, and then that they have the abilities to use those resources to get their jobs done.  If the resources run out, then no matter how talented your team members are, they won’t be able to accomplish their jobs on the project.  If they have the resources, and yet don’t have sufficient training to be able to utilize them, they won’t be able to accomplish their jobs on the project.  They have to these minimums in order to proceed.  This is an illustration of the first part of the tenet that the lower sets the possibilities of the higher.  It tells you what is necessary for your project team to succeed.

Now let’s say that they have the minimum requirements to do their job.  They have the possibility of getting it done now.  But how well they do it, and with what attitude they do it, is affected by the leadership of the project manager.  As the project manager, your leadership supplies more than what is necessary, but also what is sufficient for them succeed.  In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, the very first law is “The Law of the Lid”, which says Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.  You can give them the tools of the job so that they can do it, but you can help bring out their best, in other words, have them be more effective, by the example of your own effective leadership.

This tenet is important in that it shows that what a project manager can accomplish is limited by those on the project team, but the project manager can boost what the project team actually accomplishes through leadership.

The next post will cover tenet #7.


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